Last week, I did a deep dive into Tuscan Pecorino, thanks to a slew of samples from Di Bruno Bros. They asked me to taste a series of new products from a Tuscan producer, Il Fortetto — a cooperative outside Florence. As someone who rarely reaches for Pecorino at the cheese counter, I appreciated tasting through this product line. It convinced me that, yes, Pecorino can be table cheese. Not just a grating cheese. In fact, I’ve been eating young Pecorino for breakfast all week. Pairing it with berries, honey, and black tea — why not?
To read my post about Tuscan Pecorino, click here.
And thanks for your patience — within the last week, my blog got hacked, I caught the flu, and I hosted family from Italy. I’m just now catching my breath. What morsels are you nibbling as you prepare for spring?
Here we go, darlings, swing-a-ling! There are so many interesting cheese samplings, food art shows, and exquisite links I’ve discovered this week that I decided to put them all together. Have a browse, and hopefully I’ll see you at the James Beard House, or Brewer’s Plate, or TEDxPhilly, or Occasionette. Mon dieu, there’s a helluva lot going on!
If you’ve been dying for an excuse to dine at the James Beard House in New York (I know I have!), you may want to book a reservation this month. Mike Geno’s show “Chef Plates: The Philadelphia Collection” is on display in the Beard House gallery for March and April. Mike has become a regular face on Madame Fromage, ever since he started painting cheese portraits — he’s also a neighbor, friend, and accomplice (we like to go on curd crawls across the city). For “Chefs Plates,” Mikes pays homage to select Philadelphia chefs by rendering their main courses into luscious oils. Reservations: 212.627.2308.
Stuck at your desk eating Saltines? Click through 50 sensuous, crumbly-wumbly cheeses that New York cheesemongers chose to feature in New York Magazine. I ran through the slide show in bed last night, and there’s not a single pooper on the list. Plus, the photography is stunning. It sent me downstairs to the kitchen for a slice of Pecorino after I’d already brushed teeth.
If you can afford to skip your cheese habit this week, donate your savings to the solar power efforts of a beautiful dairy in Williamstown, MA. I visited Cricket Creek two summers ago when my friend Paul Lawler was apprenticing in the cheese room, and I loved everything I saw and tasted, especially a big stinker of a cheese called Tobasi. Cricket Creek is a stunning family farm that produces award-winning raw milk cheese. Empty your change jar, and give them a boost.
This Saturday, I’ll be serving up cheese and Port from 5-8 p.m. with Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm to celebrate Second Saturday in Philly’s East Passyunk neighborhood. Swing by to try Sue’s Stilton, and check out some of the store’s cheese swag, including cutting boards, cheese knives, and a set of cheese-themed kitchen towels designed by Girls Can Tell. The towels are part of a new collaboration I worked on with Sara Selepouchin Villari, who is famous for printing hand-dawn diagrams on cloth. I expect to use these towels at every tasting event from now on. Can’t wait for you to see them!
Sunday’s Brewer’s Plate (6:30 p.m) is Philadelphia’s best nibble fest. I love strolling, sipping, slurping, and seeing what’s new in the Philly food world, from new ice cream companies to distilleries. This year’s BP moves to the Kimmel Center. Shimmer, shimmer. I look forward to stalking cheesemakers in the star-lit atrium. If you want to talk rinds, look for me lurking with a camera.
This year’s TEDx theme, “Philadelphia: The New Workshop of The World,” highlights local makers — and I’m happy to say that local cheesemakers will be part of the Maker’s Fair from 6-8 p.m. Look for Al and Catherine Renzi of Yellow Springs Farm. Their delicate aged goat cheeses are some of the best in the state. If you’re a local cheesemaker interested in participating in the Maker Fair, contact Beth Lesko (firstname.lastname@example.org) right this second.
Don’t forget that High Street’s Cheese Dinner series continues April 1 and May 6. The photo up top shows off the leberkase sandwich that stole the show at Tuesday’s Meadowset supper. It was glorious. For upcoming reservations, call High Street.
There is something unnerving about a cheese that looks like dried squid. When I received an inquiry about sampling Chechil, I was hesitant when I viewed the pictures – but the email came from a charming man named Sergy, who described how he used Kickstarter to launch production of this Russian snack cheese in the U.S. Sure, Sergy, I wrote back. Send me some samples.
Mostly, I was curious to check out crowd-funded string cheese. To be more precise: this is a crowd-funded, smoked, braided, string-cheese beer snack.
Chechil is one of several Kickstarter campaigns sweeping the cheese world; I watched Caputo Bros. Mozzarella successfully raise funds in November, and this month I’m watching the campaign for Cricket Creek Farm. (My friend Sue Miller, of Birchrun Hills Farm, has planned a campaign in September.)
Before you read my tasting notes on Chechil, you should know that Madame’s gold standard for smoked cheeses from the U.S. is Rogue Smokey Blue. The smoke gilds the complexity of this Oregon blue, without overpowering the taste of good dairy. The flaw in many smoked wedges – like supermarket smoked Gouda – is that they smack of smoke, not of milk.
Like the burnt sugar crust on a creme brûlée, the taste of char should harmonize with the cream.
Chechil is a bar snack that is produced at a plant in New York state. It’s sold online at Chechil USA and is available at Netcost Market in Philadelphia. Chechil owner Sergey Yerkin told me that hopes to make Chechil available at Whole Foods and Fairway Market.
Smoke and salt. If you sampled this cheese with eyes closed, you might think you were eating turkey jerky. The texture makes up for the one-note profile here. It’s definitely a cheese that needs beer to offset the intense flavor.
Dry and thready, this cheese is fun to unbraid and peel apart. Pictures online show bowls of Chechil separated into strands as thin as dental floss.
I ferried Chechil to a food blogger party, along with a six-pack of Eastern European beers. Light and sweetly yeasty, these flavors offset the salty, smoky taste of the cheese. An Armenian expat friend (Karina Ambartsoumian, below-left) who sampled Chechil called it “authentic,” and within a half hour two braids of Chechil were devoured by about a dozen people.
At a party, Chechil is edible Jenga. It’s fun to take apart and talk about. To serve it, let it come to room temperature, which makes it more pliable. Pilsners are perfect alongside, but I can also imagine…
- Stuffing Chechil into martini olives
- Spooling Chechil around a long skewer for Bloody Marys
- Serving Chechil at a bbq or a vegetarian event
- Packing Chechil on hiking or camping trips
To read more about Chechil, visit Chechil USA.
One of my favorite places to eat dinner is at my neighbor Larry’s. He and his family live in a cozy row house with three kids and three whippets. It’s a place of elegant chaos. Someone or something is always clattering up or down the staircase.
Any other family of five would serve a big pot of pasta or soup to 8 guests on a Saturday night. But Larry likes to make epic meals. For his semi-annual cassoulet night, he and his sister, Jean, spent a week cooking.
When we arrived, Larry had just finished frying latkes and chicken for the kids. “So I thought we’d start with a pizza,” he said, tossing flour on the counter and reaching for a bottle of wine.
I admire hosts who cook in front of their guests. I’m a pre-party prepper who gets every dish ready before anyone knocks. By the time guests arrive, I’m panting and slinging back a gin and tonic. Larry and his wife Susan welcome the hubbub.
Add another stool to the table! Grab another dinner plate from the secret closet in the living room! Who wants an espresso? Who wants to make a s’more on the patio (using Peeps instead of marshmallows)? Would you like another glass of wine? Another slice of pie? Turn the music up! Turn the music down!
The secret to a good dinner party isn’t just about serving great food. It’s about dimming the lights, pouring drinks, and letting the rumpus begin.
Cassoulet Night Menu
Homemade pizza with caramelized onions and crème fraiche
House-cured lox with watercress salad
Espresso and s’mores
Wonderful wines (described here by Barolo Dave)
Was there a cheese board? Don’t be silly!
Coach Farm Aged Heart: A Brie-like gem made of perfectly balanced goat cheese, lovely with a dry lambrusco
Brescianella Aquavite: A pudgy Italian doused in brandy and rolled in dried off wheat germ
Ubriaco Prosecco: A firm cow’s milk hunk marinated in booze
Moliterno al tartufo: Sardinian sheep’s milk with pinstripes of black truffle
Faribault Blues & Brews: A sweet blue cheese from Minnesota, washed in Summit beer
Reader, my love affair with the food at High Street only grows deeper. The ash-swirled bread beckons me through blizzards. The cannoli danish calls me out of subway tunnels on the way to work. I brave snow, ice, sleet for crumbs.
This spring, I’m collaborating with High Street to present a series of dinners featuring local cheesemakers. If you attended the Birchrun Hills dinner in February, you are still dreaming of the stunning dairy fantasia created by Chef Eli Kulp.
Who can forget the Red Cat Lasagna, presented like a bed sheet with secrets buried beneath it – tufts of earthy dairy, mushrooms, and sprouted greens. To eat it was to peel back winter and discover spring below.
(Word has it that Red Cat Lasagna is on the menu at sister restaurant, Fork, starting this week.)
On Tuesday nights, the team at High Street gets creative, preparing a prix fixe “friends and family” dinner on a theme, starting at 9 p.m. On March 4, April 1, and May 6, local cheese will be the muse!
Trio of Local Cheese Dinners
March 4: Meadowset Sheep Cheese Dinner
Meet native Swiss cheesemaker Tom Schaer of Meadowset Farm & Apiary (Landenberg, PA). He’s a UPenn vet who makes raw sheep’s milk cheese, including the much-lauded Last Straw and Camel’s Back.
April 1: Cherry Grove Sustainable Cheese Dinner
Meet young upstart cheesemakers Paul Lawler and Jamie Png of Cherry Grove Farm (Lawrenceville, NJ). They make a variety of rustic raw-milk cheeses, including Herdsman and Lawrenceville Jack. This year, they were crowned King and Queen of the Cheese Ball.
May 6: Valley Shepherd Mixed Milk Cheese Dinner
Meet cheesemaker Jeanine Dargis of Valley Shepherd Creamery (Long Valley, NJ), who prouces award-winning Crema de Blue. Valley Shepherd has a stand in Reading Terminal Market, where some of the city’s best mozzarella is made on site.
Reservations: 215-625-0988. Dinners take place from 9-11 p.m.; $25 before tax and tip. For breathtaking glimpses of the last cheese dinner at High Street, visit Phillyism.